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Student suspended in gun rights email row

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A US University has suspended a student after he sent emails suggesting that incidents such as the Virginia Tech massacre might have been prevented if students were allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus.

Masters student Troy Scheffler was told he had to undergo compulsory "mental health evaluation" before being allowed to return to class at Hamline University, Minnesota. Scheffler declined to go along with this and turned to the non-partisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for support, thus far without any success.

Angry young man

The saga began on 17 April when Hamline’s Vice President of Student Affairs, David Stern, sent an email offering extra counseling to students, following the Virginia Tech shootings a day earlier. Scheffler responded with an email to Stern arguing that Virginia Tech’s ban on concealed weapons was part of the problem and arguing that Hamline eliminate its similar policies. Scheffler added that the private university’s diversity programs may have angered some in the student body, himself included.

Hamline University President Linda Hanson emailed the student community two days later, again addressing the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Scheffler responded by once again criticising the university’s concealed weapons ban and efforts to promote diversity. He also attacked the university's academic standards and financial policies in an angry rant, which you can read here.

Scheffler, who owns a firearm, was offered a chance to meet with University personnel to discuss his views. However by 23 April attitudes had hardened. He received a letter from Dean of Students Alan Sickbert notifying him that his emails to Stern and Hanson were "deemed to be threatening" and therefore a violation of University policy. The student was told he was to be placed on "interim suspension" from campus, which would remain in place at least until he attended a psych evaluation.

Stoking the embers

Scheffler turned to FIRE for help. It wrote to University president Hanson in May arguing that Hamline had overreacted to the emails. It took issue with the University's categorisation of the messages as threatening. In a counter-attack, FIRE accused Hamline of breaking its policy promoting freedom of expression.

Hanson responded in June to FIRE in June, noting several reasons beyond the emails for Scheffler’s suspension, includingfailure to meet administrators and "critical input from various members of the Hamline community". Scheffler and FIRE, on his behalf, contest these accusations.

By late September, Hamline's lawyers were dragged into the affair in response to accusations that Scheffler was denied his rights. FIRE went public on the case on Wednesday with a press release that links to Scheffler's original emails as well as other documents about the case.

"Hamline’s punishment of Troy Scheffler is severe, unfair, and apparently unwarranted," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “Peacefully advocating for students’ ability to carry a concealed weapon as a response to the Virginia Tech shootings may be controversial, but it simply does not justify ordering a mandatory psychological evaluation."

Hamline spokesman Jacqueline Getty cited privacy laws in declining to answer questions posed by News.com on the case. Scheffler, whose studies have remained on hold, has been supported by some conservative commentators other observers have criticised the racist overtones in his original emails and his poor use of grammar.

Not that such concerns will stop him from becoming a poster boy for the NRA. ®

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